ALTERNATIVE VISION: Fred Meyer on "An Alternative Vision to Prevent Tenant-Displacement in Cambridge" Cambridge Chronicle 8.15.19
Most longtime lower-wage residents here can't compete, for rent-paying, with the ultra-high wages now being paid employees of new offices and labs staffed with MIT-and-Harvard-style professionals. Here’s a solution to combat this unfair displacement: Let's simply require all creators of new office, educational or lab spaces to create corresponding new apartments… equal to the number of people who will work in the new (or newly-renovated) structures.
All this plan needs to work is this new zoning provision: The new apartments, if they can’t be sited within, say, a 1-mile walk of their workplace, must be served by free landlord-provided work-hour shuttle buses. Some employees will, of course, prefer to (say) ride the train in from Wellesley… or buy a condo instead of renting. So, the unclaimed apartments shall then be opened to other, non-employee Cambridge applicants, entitled to pay no higher rents than employee-tenants play. This provision will increase, instead of decrease, local rental housing…at no cost to our taxpayers!
Kendall Square’s real-estate developers, Harvard and MIT surely will squawk and lobby hard against this proposal. But we’ll win, because they need Cambridge far more than Cambridge needs them….and we vote, and they don't…so we're in the far-stronger negotiating position. Further, these adversaries, with their enormous wealth, can easily afford to fund our fair proposal. Think about it: in the past, haven't our adversaries truly been inconsiderate, or even cruel, to our city's ordinary working folk, for the displacement they’ve been causing so many to endure, for so long now?
Another solution: Some older owners of huge single-family houses here might love to have tenants in a new apartment (or two) created somewhere within their home (perhaps in basement or attic)…to have help with household chores or money for retirement. Unfortunately, our existing zoning for single-family houses does not readily allow that. Why not? Let's simply allow single family houses to be converted to more units…as long as the exterior facade of the house is not changed (except for new entrance(s) not readily visible from the street).
Another realistic solution: Why can't a single-family house be turned into a co-housing community, like one I created in 1963 (before zoning tightened) at 64-66 Wendell St. There we remodeled the interior of a huge empty existing house for my communal-living non-profit group…creating a large shared LR, DR and kitchen… still serving a dozen happy residents who live in 9 bedrooms and share 3 baths. That’s actually the third house this non-profit residential cooperative has moved to…since 1943!
Or consider the handsome Victorian house at 79 Hammond St. that's now converted into a Cambridge Housing Authority communal Halfway-House. (Our current zoning now allows such sensible conversion only for folks who are handicapped. Why that severe limitation? Shouldn't communal living also be permitted any responsible adults who'd like it? [Potentially-noisy undergraduate fraternities are the reasonable exception.]
My own single-family house right next door is now worth 50 times what I paid for it, back in 1971. Why aren’t I taxed more than I now am…to help much-less-lucky people? Why is our city's tax rate always lowered (never raised) every year? Is that truly moral…or wise?
Since our longtime tenants obviously face so many gentrification-pressures today, why doesn’t our city provide ‘rent scholarships' for worthy city employees, low-paid child- and elderly-care and social workers, and clergy?
Why do only 1/3 of Cambridge residents ever get to enjoy the financial security/wellbeing of homeownership? Why don’t we create a long-term goal of turning the majority of Cambridge residents into homeowners?
City-provided below-market-rate second mortgage would be a sensible (and profitable) goal for this city.
Why instead, are we trying to rush thru super-complicated blanket citywide rezoning…that enrages our uniquely differing neighborhoods? And that hopes to give to only 30 low-income tenants per year an incongruous higher building… with less open space and trees than their neighbors all have!
Sure, there must be subsidized housing…but, if it’s to be more moral, it should look just like its neighbors …and not look higher or more crowded-than they. Years ago, we used to give very visible ‘food stamps' to feed the needy. But now, to avoid any stigmatization, we’ve wisely switched to government-paid vouchers that look exactly like ordinary credit cards.
Isn’t this a fairer and more-effective plan for creating affordable housing in Cambridge?"
Fred Meyer is a real estate appraiser…past president of the Cambridge, Greater Boston & Massachusetts Realtor® Associations
COMMON SENSE: Councillor Dennis Carlone on "Urban Design and Implementation Recommendations for the (Not Ready) Proposed Affordable Housing Overlay"
City Councillor Dennis Carlone's August 13, 2019 letter on the Affordable Housing Overlay and where we stand with with this city-wide up-zoning proposal:
"The proposed Affordable Housing Overlay is the subject of much discussion and debate. Zoning reform cannot be simplified as a hard no or an unconditional yes. The devil is always in the details, and as a trained and experienced architect and urban designer I believe I am well suited to address the concerns of the overlay, to guide an ordinance that realistically promotes affordable housing, and to prevent the city from being sued.
Every City Councillor is committed to addressing the affordable housing crisis. We all agree on the goal but disagree on the current citywide AHO overlay draft. The present petition is deeply flawed and needs more work. It lacks any meaningful design review standards and process, nor ways to measure outcomes. It does not specify the actual increased densities proposed for affordable housing.
Rather than a citywide scope as currently proposed, Cambridge should focus on the most buildable sites (where change is inevitable, and the greater number of units can be built) that more fully meet the needs of affordable housing families. At the same time, we must ensure that new construction enhances, not overwhelms, existing communities. A broader vision is needed. This will require more work and more time as we find the most effective way to move forward.
I proposed several amendments to address neighborhood concerns. As I write this several have already been voted down by a 5-4 margin. The division on the Council is representative of the division in the community. I fear without these amendments we are opening the city up to avoidable lawsuits and poor development.
Zoning is Law. We must remember that any approved zoning becomes our law. And any law must be carefully studied and thoughtfully developed. Because this has not yet happened, preliminary discussions have created a great sense of uncertainty, confusion and anger among our residents. We can – and must - do better.
City Development Policy Background: Since the 1970’s, City policies focused almost exclusively on expanding commercial development in order to increase the tax base and employment opportunities, in part to make up for the loss of industry in the 1950’s and 60’s. As a result, the amount of commercial development in Cambridge continually outpaces new residential production. This planning approach creates a very strong housing demand from new employees with higher incomes who want to live near work and is compounded by unmet housing needs of expanding universities and the general increased interest in city living.
This has led to housing cost (apartment rents and home purchases) increasing 2,000 percent or more over the last 40 years. Many, especially the middle and working class, have been forced out of Cambridge.
A More Realistic, Broader Approach: Given the large amount of public financing and City Council/Staff involvement, any citywide petition resulting in denser construction must diligently balance community concerns with projected development. The expanse of the proposed petition is precedent setting, and no one wins if the matter goes to court. The goal should be to find an approach that works for everyone in a fair, balanced, transparent, and productive way. Residents want the opportunity to be a part of the larger community and to live in homes that fit into their neighborhood.
A Different Kind of Zoning is Needed: We must go beyond specific site zoning as outlined in the Affordable Housing Overlay petition and consider existing neighboring buildings’ context, including siting characteristics (setbacks, height, character, etc.) in order to create desirable development. Each neighborhood block is different, especially in commercial areas. We must evaluate appropriate sites from a neighborhood-impact perspective and develop more appropriate heights and transitions.
We need to zone and build in context. Well-conceived architectural and urban design objectives with a strong design review process are essential to ensure that new development (especially those significantly larger than their neighbors) reinforces and enhances the surrounding neighborhood, village center, or city square character. The current plan as written does not allow for this. Ideally, the best overlay ordinance creates a scenario where each project within it adds to the civic confidence that the ordinance works.
Preferred Site Locations: We should focus on site opportunities where urban change is already inevitable and ensure that they are part of the greater area vision. Whenever there is development demand, change almost always occurs on “Soft Parcels.” These are sites that are underbuilt (where existing zoning allows a larger structure), underutilized (vacant or unprofitable use), and/or one in poor condition (beyond saving).
In Cambridge, parking lots and one-story (especially vacant) structures are the most prime locations for redevelopment. We see this happening right now throughout the city. These are the areas that will almost certainly become luxury apartment if we don’t prioritize affordable housing there.
Furthermore, most people, especially residents without cars, want to live near needed retail, public services, and mass transit. Many want to have the opportunity to be a part of an active community. Affordable housing should be prioritized in such areas.
Overlay Design Consultation Objectives: Design objectives, which determine the design and scope of any development, must be part of the zoning if they are going to have any consistent impact on development. Separate guidelines, especially without a special permit-based design review process, (as proposed by the current petition), are ineffective because they are not enforceable.
Implementation and Oversight: As now proposed, The Cambridge Affordable Housing Trust, the principal Cambridge funding source, seems to be the only design and implementation oversight group currently with any power. They will be required to evaluate neighborhood design concerns, Planning Board design recommendations, and Community Development’s urban design staff comments and then decide whether the proposed building should be funded or not. They must state what design changes will be incorporated in any proposed project seeking their funding assistance. No other group would have any control. This is overly taxing on the Trust and not a good balance of power.
Site and Non-Residential Space Ownership: Instead, the city needs to utilize a trusted non-profit entity with proven experience in the development process and the ability to purchase property and possibly write down the land cost for public purposes. This entity would oversee any non-residential first floor uses, such as desired local retail, pre-kindergarten facilities, neighborhood library, etc. The remanding building rights would be sold to a local affordable housing developer - allowing the residential developer to focus primarily on the development of housing.
In my view, the most likely candidate is the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, which has a unique economic and development management position in the city with broad purchasing and planning powers. This approach is essential to expanding affordable housing in Cambridge.
Embellishment of Public Domain: The city, not the affordable housing developer, should be responsible for new sidewalks, trees sustainably planted and watered, street patching, streetlights, and utilities below grade to help offset public domain costs and, at the same time, improve street tree growth as well. The city is not currently responsible and this needs to be added to an improved overlay petition.
More Funding: I fervently hope the City Council can eventually pass an Affordable Housing Overlay that promotes affordability, addresses neighborhood concerns and doesn’t open the city up to lawsuits. However, even a successful overlay will go nowhere without funding for affordable housing. I am proud of my work to secure an additional $5 million a year in city funding for affordable housing, but this is clearly not enough. Others on the council and in the city are doing their best to increase funding, and we still need to do better. Although Cambridge is by far the wealthiest city in the state with the greatest financial resources, our residents have the second lowest real estate tax payments in Massachusettsand one of the lowest in the country. As many residents have stated, we can easily afford more for meeting our commitments.
Bottom-Line Recommendation: I have proposed a number of specific improvements to the petition that will be discussed at today’s Ordinance hearing. However, it is clear to me that we are not ready, with too little time available, to fully modify the petition. Let’s truly understand all implications, both positive and negative. Let’s get it right, and take the time we need to work on the intended goals and methods to assure that what we propose is feasible, equitable, transparent, measurable, and unifies us as a great City."
Concerning Business: Susan Labandibar, Board Chair of Cambridge Local First, Foresees Negative AHO Impacts
Susan Labandibar, Board Chair, Cambridge Local First, forwarded the following letter to the Cambridge City Council voicing key concerns with the Affordable Housing Overlay from the vantage of local businesses. We publish it here with her permission.
"As currently written, the AHO is designed to increase development near subway stops and on transit corridors, which is where many Cambridge Local First retail businesses are located. These businesses are already experiencing dislocation due to development pressures.
The AHO does not provide funds for helping local businesses move if the building in which they are located is purchased by an affordable housing developer. Should a business want to return to its original location after development is completed, they may be unable to afford the new rent or may not be offered a new lease, since developers and real estate investors generally prefer to lease to national retail chains.
Local businesses not directly affected by property sales to AHO developers may be negatively affected by construction-related declines in business and rising property values, which are passed on directly to businesses via triple net leases.
For these reasons, Cambridge Local First cannot endorse the Affordable Housing Overlay unless protections for local businesses are included."
As a follow up to her letter, we cite here part of the Cambridge Local First Mission Statement which highlights how important local businesses are not only to the local economy but also to the vibrancy of each neighborhood and the city's livability for the city's various residents: “Today’s small business owners face a daunting array of challenges. Retail businesses are closing across the country. In Cambridge, an unstable and unaffordable commercial rental market compounds the problem. However, a thriving small business sector is vital to Cambridge’s sense of self. Small business ownership has historically been part of the immigration story. Entrepreneurship can be an important tool for individuals and families to grow assets and exit poverty. Entrepreneurs generally have higher incomes than their peers and are more likely to invest in their children’s educations. Customers, in turn, benefit when the businesses they frequent are mindful of their neighbors and invested in the success of local communities. As such, efforts to invest in entrepreneurship are also investments in the next generation and in a community’s future.”
TREES AND THEIR HEALTH IMPACTS
Trees are important to our health. In a July 26, 2019 article titled: MORE TREES MEAN BETTER HEALTH OUTCOMES, ACCORDING TO NEW RESEARCH Tom Jacobs writes that "New Australian research finds that, when a neighborhood's green space leads to better health outcomes, it's the canopy of trees that provides most of the benefits.... In recent years, study after study has found that living in neighborhoods with abundant green space is linked to positive health outcomes. These include better heart health, stronger cognitive development, and greater overall longevity. No wonder these areas are also linked to lower levels of Medicare spending. But when it come to promoting human health, not all green spaces are created equal. That's the conclusion of new Australian research, which finds higher levels of wellness in areas marked by one particular manifestation of the natural world: leafy trees. 'Protection and restoration of urban tree canopy specifically, rather than any urban greening, may be a good option for promotion of community mental health,' write Thomas Astell-Burt and Xiaoqi Feng of the University of Wollongong in New South Wales. Their study, along with a commentary, is published in the journal JAMA Network Open. They describe a large-scale longitudinal study featuring 46,786 mostly older residents of three Australian urban areas.
The subjects were initially interviewed between 2006 and 2009; follow-up reports were taken between 2012 and 2015. At both points, participants were asked to rate their overall health, and noted whether they have ever been diagnosed with, or treated for, anxiety or depression. In addition, they completed a 10-item questionnaire designed to measure their risk of psychological distress. Among other items, they noted how often in recent weeks they had felt 'hopeless, rigid, or fidgety,' 'so sad that nothing could cheer you up,' or 'worthless.' Researchers compared the participants' answers to the natural features of the "mesh block" where their home is located (a geographical unit containing 30 to 60 dwellings). Using satellite imagery, the team calculated both the percentage of total green space and "separate green space types, including tree canopy, grass, or other low-lying vegetation. After taking into account such variables as the participants' age, gender, education, and household income, the researchers were able to confirm the results of previous studies, finding that "total green space appeared to be associated with lower odds of incident psychological distress. More intriguingly, they also found that exposure to low-lying vegetation was not consistently associated with any particular health outcome. Exposure to grass was, surprisingly, associated with higher odds of psychological distress. The wellness-boosting feature, then, appears to be the trees.
The researchers report that living in areas where 30 percent or more of the outdoor space is dominated by tree canopy was associated with 31 percent lower odds of psychological distress, compared to people living in areas with 0 to 9 percent tree canopy. 'Similar results were found for self-related fair to poor general health,' with tree-rich residents reporting better health overall, the researchers write. Astell-Burt and Feng can only speculate on the reasons behind their findings, but they come up with some reasonable guesses. 'Shorn of tree canopy, sidewalk temperatures can be higher, sidewalks can seem noisier, and walkers along them are exposed to more air pollution,' they write. In addition, they point to studies suggesting that 'higher levels of biodiversity, rather than the amount of green space, were associated with more favorable levels of psychological well-being.' Research shows that "tree canopy is more supportive of biodiversity than open grasslands,' they add. In an accompanying commentary, Dutch environmental researcher Sjerp de Vries cautions that these researchers are journeying into 'uncharted territory,' and suggests that a measure of per capita green space might be the best measure of its benefits. Additional research is clearly called for. Nevertheless, these results provide evidence of the benefits of natural shade, and suggest that our love of trees may be biologically driven. A neighborhood's leafiness is worth keeping in mind when you're deciding where to put down roots." READ the article here: https://psmag.com/news/more-trees-leads-to-better-health-outcomes-according-to-new-research
Unless the City Council majority feel that poor people in Cambridge deserve poorer development, health, and longevity than the rest of our citizens, then they must stop voting they way that they have most recently. Thanks to this group's votes, the cutting of mature trees is now permitted for affordable housing developments, while elsewhere in the city it has been banned. According to votes by this same City Council majority at the Ordinance Committee meeting last Thursday, current green space requirements in key parts of the city (places where trees will grow) will be limited in these same AHO developments to 7.5 feet on side yards - not enough space for mature trees to flourish, particularly once you add in bike sheds, dormers, and decks.
THE COOLING IMPACT OF TREES
And it is not just about one's health (rich or poor), this is also about the impacts of global warming and the fact that it is these same West Cambridge, District Nine, and Agassiz neighborhoods that provide much of the tree canopy that will be cut, but also that this part of the city is what cools off the rest of the city. The map below makes this perfectly eminently clear.
And we cannot just plant-a-new-tree every where in the city to get out of this problem in Cambridge. Not only does it take 30 or so years for a new tree to reach maturity but some 25% of newly planted trees die before they reach maturity. Furthermore, because we are so dense (between 3rd and 5th most dense city in the U.S. for populations over 100,000) we have very few spaces left to plant them. Again let's look at a map to see why. The map below shows the available permeable spaces in the city. There is VERY little of this land in many parts of the city outside of West Cambridge, Area 9 and Agassiz. So whether we care about trees because they are important to everyone's health (including the poor) or whether we care about trees because we need to address climate change now, the decisions Council is making regarding trees and green spaces in the AHO is critical to both the present and future of the city.
The AHO proposal to add massive and far taller buildings (such as the one below) everywhere in the city (and especially in the tree-rich areas of West Cambridge, Area 9, and Agassiz) will not only limit nearby residents to potential solar use, but also will limit our future for addressing sound environmental policy.
THE PROBLEMS WITH BIG DEVELOPMENTS EVERYWHERE
Yes we want and need more affordable housing housing here, even though we have far surpassed state mandates on this, but there are far better ways to achieve this by concentrating this housing on parts of our main corridors AND by rezoning to allow residents to add one or two new units within the shell of their current residences. When we see the scale of the structures being built now and even larger ones proposed for future the AHO projects "as-of-right" everywhere in the city, regardless of the destructive health and environmental impacts we see how problematic this city-wide up-zoning proposal is. We need to do this right!
Categories: AHO, Environment
The above image is CCC's most recent effort to convey visually how new structures in the proposed new Affordable . Housing Overlay will be experienced by residents. How one choses to convey a subject is very much an art form. Since no buildings have yet been built, much less those with the height and scale of those allowable in the proposed Affordable Housing Overlay, creating visual imagery is as much an art as a science - with a fair amount of intentionality thrown in. Most of CDD renderings are created using a technique called orthographic drawing to represent these buildings as three-dimensional forms (see below right). Because these convey how these buildings would be seen from above, they completely miss how these new structures would be experienced on ground level (by pedestrians and others) or by those living in inside adjacent or nearby buildings. A case in point is this left image below. The soft pastel blue of this rendering (or the greyscale) coloration of others also mute how sometimes jarring bold colors and new materials can be in historic neighborhoods. Moreover, the affordable housing developments CDD has shown were based on the current system of design criteria, review and oversight (including strong neighborhood participation, with potential for appeal. And at the August 5, 2019 meeting at the Public Library, one of the structures shown . as a model was not only created using the current design criteria, but only stands three stories high, well below those that will be allowed if the AHO passes.
Various individuals have worked to convey visually what the impacts of these structures will be on residents around the city. The version at the top is CCC's most recent version. It may also change over time. We did not get to this image without a lot of experimentation, trials and errors. That is a reflection in part of the complexity of the AHO but also part of the "art" in making such imagery. We had several earlier images. One of these is shown on the left. One left on the cutting room floor (with a current Cambridge affordable housing building)is shown at the right below.
Taken up here are further responses to AHOR critiques of this handout:
· Concerns on heights: the text and image have been corrected. Response: not mentioned in the AHOR document is the fact that places currently zoned for 40 feet could go up to 80 feet in the AHO and places currently zoned for 80 feet were allowed to go up to 350 feet in the AHO according to the May 5 CDD Document. HERE is the May5 CDD document: https://www.cambridgema.gov/~/media/Files/CDD/Housing/Overlay/100affordableoverlaypresentation20190305.pdf. SEE IMAGES AT THE END of this overview. Note: This was changed in a recent proposal zoning proposal revision.
· Concerns on impacts on every neighborhood: AHOR states that the handout incorrectly states that “Only a very small number of streets would be newly allowed these tall corridor buildings -- most neighborhoods don't have one.” Response: the AHO wording indicates that this will impact all residential and commercial properties; and indeed this is citywide.
· Concerns that the handout creators misunderstand how stories work. Response: this is incorrect, the average story height is 10 feet and this is indicated in the image.
· Concerns about stating that the AHO is "highly risky" but these risks are “never called out.” Response: indeed there is no other city in the country that has attempted such a step; the term “highly risky” was noted at the Planning Board meeting.
· Concerns that the tall building depicted has too little window glass. Response: this image is not an actual building but an architect’s drawing. And in many ways more windows, particularly in close proximity to adjacent buildings will be more problematic.
· Concerns about the statement that the Overlay "allows for removal of trees and green space,” specifically that. “the overlay does not change any zoning regulation with regard to trees.” Response: in fact, the recent tree ordinance to safeguard mature trees specifically removed affordable housing from this requirement.
· Concerns about the statement that It says that the Overlay "allows residential tear-downs and renter displacement." AHOR states, this is “common throughout the city already…but it is not affected in any way by the overlay.” Response: This is not at all common now, and in the current system, neighbors often work together with the developer to help preserve these structures. In the AHO only those buildings on the State Registry of Historic buildings are preferably preserved. Unfortunately, there are relatively few buildings currently on this list. And there is no special protection for tenants who live in these building who would indeed be displaced.
· Concerns with the statement that the AHO will lead to tall box-like structures. Response: This is indeed correct, and the reason that this is done is to maximize density (the number of units to be built) and to save costs; tall box-like buildings characterize most affordable housing developments in Cambridge and elsewhere.
· Concerns that the claims about increasing density will increase traffic …in general, more dense construction in cities decreases traffic, as more residents can walk to their destinations. Response: The AHO will be occupied mostly by people who work outside the home; and, since these are lower income, many will be working at night, or on several shifts, or in cities outside Cambridge; public transport will not accommodate this.
· Concerns that this will "alter city livability"… which has been countered by all evidence from the City and from this organization, which claims that very few units will be created. Response: Unlike 40B housing there will be no profit caps on AHO developments and multiple developers have noted that the number could rise into the thousands, particularly for those developers who already own properties in Cambridge so property costs are not the issue.
· Concerns that claims in this handout are not fact-based and no way to confirm or deny many of them, e.g. risk of spurious citizen lawsuits [and]…claim that unit densities could be increased by up to 8x is also true, though projects at that density are unlikely for other reasons. Response: few of the lawsuits are spurious and indeed some of these developments likely will increase density up to these levels.
Reality Check: Peter Kroon responds to disinformation promoted on the new Affordable Housing Overlay Reality website
A new website has emerged on the 100% Affordable Housing Overlay (AHO) proposal, created by Christopher Schmidt, and under the name of "Affordable Housing Overlay Reality." Schmidt has frequently spoken out in favor of the AHO at City Council, Planning Board, and other meetings. How does his new site rate in terms of its core facts? Cambridge resident, Peter Kroon, who is well versed in issues of both zoning and finance, has forwarded the following letter to the City Council Ordinance Committee today. In his text offers a reality check to the new "AHO Reality"site. CCC is pleased to publish this letter with permission of the author.
Dear Ordinance Committee members -
I write to rebut a website that purports to tell the "Affordable Housing Overlay Reality".
Contrary to what is stated on that site:
1. The AHO has no limit to the funding that could be applied and there are many ways such funding could be raised and thus there is no guarantee that "the overlay will [only] impact a handful of developments each year ... not enough to drastically change the character of our neighborhoods or the City as a whole". In fact, the opposite is true. If approved it would create a financial incentive (density boost) and a mechanism (by right) to transform the City.
2. The Design Guidelines are lovely suggestions but they are aspirational (e.g. "will consider") and toothless (no enforcement mechanism) and thus do not guarantee "buildings in the style of the neighborhood". The buildings shown on the site were produced under the current rules. We are now being asked to allow By Right development with no firm assurances of anything other than the right to speak for 3 minutes before the Planning Board which in turn will issue a non-binding recommendation. That is unreasonable.
3. Suggesting that "the AHO will only increase height slightly in residential districts" is wildly misleading. A half-acre lot that has a large single or two-family home today could turn into an apartment containing 45 two-bedroom units. The economics will strongly encourage assemblages of super sites.
4. "Taller development" "only along the commercial corridors" is also misleading. Parts of those commercial corridors are residential. They could now have by-right seven story buildings facing the corridor, stepping down to 50' tall just 20' away from existing two-story home sites directly behind. Our historic neighborhoods are not going away. Seven stories is too tall. Even six stories is too tall. Five stories is the most we should offer.
5. "Thoughtful building re-use" is also misleading. The elimination of FAR and the city-wide multi-family zoning will allow older buildings including in Neighborhood Conservation Districts to be torn down and replaced with apartment buildings. That is not true under current zoning.
6. Cambridge has essentially achieved the State mandate of 10% affordable units whereas our neighboring cities are at between 5% and 10%. This is where increased development needs to happen. Cambridge exceeds that minimum but nevertheless this allows Affordable Housing developers to sidestep local zoning restrictions and other requirements by means of comprehensive permits. Cambridge may choose to produce more affordable dwellings, but it does not "need" to in any legal sense. We need to demand that our sister cities do their fair share.
7. Despite what it says in the Design Guidelines, any mature tree in the way of an AHO development can be chopped down without penalty. That is not true for regular non-AHO development.
8. AHO developments could have a little as zero off-street parking if located within half mile of a T stop despite opaque City studies that claim to show that the existing 100% affordable buildings generate 0.4 actual cars per unit. Be honest as you consider the impact on our street parking and the people that depend on it.
9. Despite being untested policy, the AHO has no cap on development and no sunset clause. To my knowledge, no impact analysis has been performed on the potential creation of thousands of new dwelling units. Is that a good idea? Not in the business world.
I submit to you that the foregoing is a more accurate "reality of the proposed Affordable Housing Overlay".
There are some good ideas in the AHO, but the AHO as it stands is not good policy. Please fix it or kill it.
REBOOT: Kelly Dolan -Withdraw affordable housing overlay petition for a rewrite to be simply voted by City Council
Kelly Dolan of the Freshpond Residents Alliance published an excellent letter in the August 6, 2019 in Cambridge Day.
To read online click HERE. www.cambridgeday.com/2019/08/06/withdraw-affordable-housing-overlay-petition-for-a-rewrite-to-be-simply-voted-by-city-council/
Or, read her text below. This letter is also in the Documents section of the CCC website.
"Last week the City Council’s Ordinance Committee met to discuss the affordable housing overlay petition submitted by the city’s Community Development Department. This was the second hearing since it was submitted as a proposed amendment to the city’s zoning laws. The meeting lasted for four hours, including two hours of public comment. The chairman, councillor Dennis Carlone, had asked the department to include more clear guidance for developers in the zoning language, for councillors to submit their list of amendments and recommendations and for a letter from the city solicitor on legal concerns.
The CDD gave a presentation outlining its new design guidelines, which as the council learned are just that: suggested recommendations, not requirements.
Meanwhile the list of amendments from councillors was vast; the letter from the solicitor was absent; an important opinion from the Planning Board isn’t due until Sept. 3; and the answers from the CDD were vague.
The only thing that was clear from the discussion at the Ordinance Committee meeting is that the overlay as submitted is not yet complete. Under the state’s zoning change procedure, it requires two more City Council meetings and a two-thirds affirmative vote from the council before the petition expires Sept. 30. That means the Ordinance Committee has only until Sept. 9 to send it back to the council.
Councillors made it clear there are still inadequate mandatory guidelines that would justify giving developers the “as of right” clause removing Planning Board and neighborhood input on design.
There are not enough details on the density implications by each diverse zoning district; few guidelines for transition zones; and no differences between neighborhoods and corridors. This flies in the face of the normal purpose and execution of city planning and zoning. And since this zoning proposal has never been implemented anywhere, there is not nearly enough information on any unintended consequences.
The city has invested more than $3 million in the Envision planning process, and residents have invested thousands of hours in good faith participation in its development over the past three years. So far this is the only housing proposal being acted upon. Further, there is still confusion and vague promises for protection of trees and green open and permeable space. The city’s own studies have shown that these are necessary for truly livable and equitable housing, especially given the impacts of climate change.
The Ordinance Committee should not be asked to actually write this zoning regulation, but under this very confusing and convoluted process that is exactly what the CDD is forcing the committee to do if it wants to meet the Sept. 30 deadline.
This is why the CDD should withdraw this proposal until it is properly written and ready for full consideration by the City Council.
Meanwhile, the ordinance meeting followed a six-hour meeting of the City Council on July 30, which included three hours of public testimony. It appears the CDD has many more outstanding issues that it has failed to address, which are starting to converge right before an important election season.
The outstanding issues include:
Effective cannabis zoning to generate a revenue stream, fill some empty retail spaces and enable business and job opportunities for affected communities;
Analysis of the impact of raising the inclusionary zoning requirement to 20 percent, which produces the bulk of our affordable housing – more than 100 units per year at no upfront costs to the city;
Allowing an electrical substation near the Kennedy-Longfellow elementary school, raising the question of whether the energy needs of this rapidly growing city have been accurately forecast;
Addressing a Kendall Square zoning petition attempting to remove residential land for more lab space;
Disposition of parking spaces in the city-owned First Street Garage that would allow development of East Cambridge’s former Edward J. Sullivan Courthouse to proceed;
Release of the long overdue Alewife Envision Report, which led off a citywide master planning study, before the site is completely permitted and built out;
Policies expected from the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Displacement Task Force or the Envision housing report to protect existing residents from continued displacement;
A universal pre-K education proposal to the School Committee;
Recommendations and action items to support the transportation emergency declared recently by Kendall Square business leaders;
A plan for providing Inman Square businesses some solutions for parking issues during a two-year renovation project.
Yes, affordable housing is a top priority for our city. Even as we debate this zoning change we are adding more affordable housing. City developer of affordable housing Just-A-Start presented a plan recently for two seven-story buildings on Rindge Avenue, and our inclusionary zoning requirement continues to add units as the city adds housing.
So why are we halting the progress of our entire city by asking our city councillors, most of whom have very little training in urban planning, to write the rules for a zoning amendment covering the entire city for the Cambridge Housing Trust that may or may not result in 40 more affordable housing units?
It’s time for city councillors to ask the CDD to withdraw the affordable housing overlay petition until it’s written more effectively and they can simply vote to accept or deny it, like any other zoning petition submitted to the city for consideration. Let’s move on to addressing the growing list of important issues facing our city."
NOT READY: Patty Nolan on the Affordable Housing Overlay Proposal Not Ready for Prime Time in Cambridge
City Council Candidate, Patty Nolan, has published an excellent Guest Column for the Cambridge Chronicle titled "The Affordable Housing Proposal Not Ready for Primetime in Cambridge" You can read it on their website here:cambridge.wickedlocal.com/news/20190806/guest-column-affordable-housing-overlay-proposal-not-ready-for-prime-time-in-cambridge. With her permission, we have added it to the CCC Documents section and are including her expanded text below.
"Cambridge is proposing a citywide zoning change with potentially wide-reaching consequences. Good governance and management best practice require studying and reviewing policy ideas prior to decision-making. An exemplar process for devising solutions: brainstorm a list of 20 or more ways to tackle the problem. After research, reflection and expert advice, analyze the dozen most promising ones. Based on that assessment, conduct in-depth study of the best 5 or 6, and recommend the most promising one or two. If Cambridge followed this best practice related to the overlay, there is no evidence. If so, the city should distribute the analyses that led to this ONE option. It would be irresponsible to adopt a major change without knowing alternatives and understanding potential consequences.
I’m not a housing expert, but can think of several promising options. One: Minneapolis’ bold proposal that will eliminate single family zoning everywhere in that city – without changing setbacks, open space, height. What could that approach accomplish here? Two: using data on the recent change in inclusionary housing to 20%, model an increase to 22% or 23%. That appears to have been a very cost effective way to increase the number of affordable units. What would that do? Three: recent section 8 increases based on zip code might increase affordable units significantly. How might the city motivate landlords to have section 8 tenants? We own a 2-family and rent an apartment for below the Section 8 rent. Might there be other landlords like us in Cambridge who would consider section 8 tenants? These are three options of many that should be explored, which needn’t take much time, and none of them require citywide zoning changes and potential changes to exterior dimensions, permeable surfaces or tree canopy.
I am stunned so much energy and staff time have gone into marketing this single proposal instead of studying a RANGE of proposals which might be more promising and less disruptive. Had the overlay resulted from such a process, opposition would be less.
Second, there is a distinct lack of clarity around number of additional units expected due to an overlay. The city’s documents state clearly the overlay alone will result in zero to very few. The updated FAQ states the proposal “is not increasing the amount of affordable housing” (Q 37 page 13) and the recent June 21 administration memo states CDD expects “no more than 1-2 developments” each year (p. 9). Yet proponents believe the overlay will increase affordable units. And documents refer to the number of units possibly increasing from the current 60-70 to 100 which implies an increase of 30-40 units. However, close reading makes it clear those additional units result NOT FROM THE OVERLAY, but from the funding increase the City Council voted - from $13 to $20 million. The number is limited by funding - with or without the overlay. So why do it? The overlay MIGHT mean more housing in different neighborhoods – a worthy goal. But if land costs vary, would developers buy land near Brattle over Riverside for the same size project if it cost more? Why the huge expenditure in time advocating for what the city says would yield MAYBE a few more units?
OR, alternatively the additional units might be hundreds or thousands. Say a wealthy developer with private funding bought my next door neighbor’s house and built small apartments for graduate students, who generally are low income. It appears the number of units could be double maybe triple what the city suggests in its specific examples of potential developments. Might it be profitable even with permanent affordability restrictions? And with no mandates, why follow any design guidelines? With thousands more units, what are the infrastructure implications?
These questions of how this proposal might unfold and change the fabric of Cambridge are critically important to understand and think through. The overlay might be positive. Or negative. We owe it to ourselves to model various scenarios and based on best estimates know the range of possible outcomes. This proposal has far too many unanswered questions and far too great a risk to move forward as written.
And please, let’s all model respectful behavior. Don’t denigrate anyone on any side of this debate. Supporting this proposal or not does not mean you are for or against affordable housing. We disagree on how best to increase and spread out affordable housing, not on whether we should.
Yes, in many places zoning was put in place to exclude, and is racist and elitist. That does not mean all zoning regulations and limits are racist and elitist. There are models for good and just urban planning. There is a reason for some zoning regulations – like no cannabis next to a school. Many cities wish they had the luxury we have – of a community engaged in dialogue about what makes the city livable and welcoming. And a staff capable of thoughtful comprehensive review of options. We haven’t done the hard work of vetting different options – a surprising and disappointing situation. We can do better."
There are many ways to look at what is happening in Cambridge with respect to housing. One way is the sheer quantity of housing units built in the city in recent years. New units are now nearing 7,000. The image below which shows this climb was created by Mike Connolly for Dennis Carlone.org. and appears in a June 7, 2015 Cambridge Day article on the surging population that the city's forthcoming masterplan was intended to address.
The above article goes on to note that "For Cambridge, the planning agency said between 3,100 and 6,200 units of new housing were needed from 2010 to 2030. But, Connolly said: “When the 1,356 housing units that have been built since 2010 are added to the 5,408 units that are currently permitted and/or under construction, it is clear that Cambridge has already built and/or permitted 6,764 units of new housing since 2010, more than enough to surpass MAPC’s [bigger] housing target for the year 2030.”
Why, we should ask, was all this new housing needed? Because our already highly dense city (now ranked number 3, 4 or 5 in the list of densest U.S. cities over 100,000, was seeking to grow some 25%-30% in size to keep up with trend for more and more companies seeking to make a home here to take advantage of our schools and amenities. As seen in another graph published in this same article the amount of anticipated population growth in this city specifically is stunning. Source: www.cambridgeday.com/2015/06/07/surges-in-city-population-and-construction-laid-out-ahead-of-a-master-plan-roundtable/
As in any urban area in the world, there are clear wealth and other inequities in Cambridge. Far too much of this disparity is defined in terms of race, a factor that also impacts housing availability, particularly housing that is affordable. This problem has seen a sizable increase by the recent arrival of high paying bio-tech, Google and other jobs, which often show notable racial differences in salaries.
As is evident to any one who bikes, walks or travels through the city today, we see sizable differences in wealth, property values, and even the costs of home ownership. The map below showing "hot" (expensive) areas of the city shows nothing that most of us don't already know far too well. (Image Source: Neighborhood Scout: Cambridge Real Estate).
There is an important history to these neighborhood differences that also need to be addressed. Some of this difference is based on history, for example proximity to the original city center (Newtowne), its market and the adjacent Harvard University. In other cases it is the legacy of the city's early industrial history that is reflected - too often coupled with federal policy that financed much needed low income housing developments in the 1960s and 1970s in the areas where factories had once thrived. It is important also NOT to forget the impact and legacy of rent control in this city; its impacts still are witnessed today in property values and rental unit availablity. The map below addresses "spillovers after rent control" and appears in a June 2014 article by Autor et. al in the Journal of Political Economy.
And let's ALSO not forget the legacy of our own city planners. This 1950-1956 Cambridge City Plan is particularly revealing.
In some ways little has changed, as can be seen in this recent Cambridge diagram for shaping the city's development.
Recall too, the impacts of all this new growth not only on housing but also on infrastructure, - from increased transportation needs (and traffic), to out-dated water mains that have burst, to greatly increased needs for electricity in certain parts fo the city.
Finally it is important to remember that we cannot just build our way out of this by tearing down historic homes or . removing green spaces and mature trees. This is at once a national, international, and regional issue. And not only must our city hold our large employers accountable for housing their employees (from biotech, to google, to our universities) but we need to come together with a truly regional approach. Cambridge - and its residents - cannot do it all. We have already well surpassed the state affordable housing goals for our city, adding a significant number of multi-family housing units. We have way out-performed some of the near neighboring cities. This is something we need to solve together.
8.15.19 CONCERNING BUSINESS: Susan Labandibar, Board Chair of Cambridge Local First, Foresees Negative AHO Impacts .https://www.cccoalition.org/blog/concerning-business-susan-labandibar-board-chair-of-cambridge-local-first-foresees-negative-aho-impacts
8.13.19. POLITICS BY DESIGN and Why it Matters. https://www.cccoalition.org/blog/politics-by-design-form-vs-farand-why-it-matters
8.12.19. WHY TREES MATTER TO EVERYONE: One More Reason why the AHO is Deeply Flawed
8.8.19. GRAPPLING WITH GRAPHICS: Misrepresenting the Complexities of Visualizing the AHO https://www.cccoalition.org/blog/grappling-with-graphics-misrepresenting-the-complexities-of-visualizing-the-aho
8.8.19 REALITY CHECK: Peter Kroon responds to Disinformation promoted on the AHO Reality website https://www.cccoalition.org/blog/reality-check-peter-kroon-responds-to-disinformation-promoted-on-the-new-affordable-housing-overlay-reality-website
8.7.19. REBOOT: Kelly Dolan's letter: Withdraw Affordable Housing Overlay Petition https://www.cccoalition.org/blog/withdraw-affordable-housing-overlay-petition-for-a-rewrite-to-be-simply-voted-by-city-council-by-kelly-dolan
8.6.19. NOT READY: Patty Nolan on the Affordable Housing Overlay Proposal Not Ready for Prime Time in Cambridge https://www.cccoalition.org/blog/affordable-housing-overlay-proposal-not-ready-for-prime-time-in-cambridge
8.3.19. CAMBRIDGE HOUSING CONCERNS: A Short History. https://www.cccoalition.org/blog/the-housing-crisis-a-short-history
7.31.19 YES to Affordable; No to this Plan. https://www.cccoalition.org/blog/yes-to-affordable-housing-and-no-to-the-overlay
7.29.19 HOT OFF THE PRESS: New Design Guidelines. https://www.cccoalition.org/blog/hot-off-the-press-new-design-guidelines
7.29.19 WHO QUALIFIES for AHO Housing. https://www.cccoalition.org/blog/july-29th-2019
7.28.19 HOW DID WE END UP HERE? What are the Core Concerns?